Katie’s TEFL Adventure in South Korea!
Hi Katie! Tell us a little bit about you.
Hi everyone! My name is Katie, I am 29 years old and I am from Cork City in Ireland. I studied in CIT to be a chef and got my bachelor’s degree, before working in the hospitality industry for 5 years in total. I then moved on to the interiors industry and worked in different tile shops and fabric interiors companies for the next 5 years. However, teaching was always what I wanted to do. I had originally planned on becoming a music teacher when I left school, but an ill-timed injury meant that I could no longer play the piano effectively enough to teach so now I am finally fulfilling the dream of teaching and living in an amazing place while doing it! I currently live in Haeundae, Busan, South Korea.
What drew you to our TEFL internship?
I had initially been looking into coming to South Korea by myself for 2 months prior and I thought about coming here through the EPIK programme, which is teaching English in Korea through the public school system. I watched a million and one videos on YouTube and read countless articles about it to prepare myself for it. However, after I purchased my TEFL course, I realised that The TEFL Institute of Ireland offered an internship in South Korea. I realised I would have peace of mind knowing there was someone to guide me through all the stages and answer my questions and honestly, it was a no brainer to choose to have the support over doing it alone. Kate and Sarah, as well as my advisors on the internship, gave me all the relevant information on teaching in both Hagwons and through EPIK and helped me decide that the Hagwon approach was better for me.
Which one of our TEFL courses did you complete?
As of now, I have completed the 120 hour TEFL course, the 180-hour level 5 Ofqual course, as well as three 30 hour courses in Teaching Young Learners, Advanced Grammar and Teaching English Online.
Tell us about your path to teaching abroad, was it something you always wanted to do?
I have always wanted to travel. It was a big reason in the beginning as to why I chose to do cheffing because I wanted a course I could work with abroad. I did travel Europe a little on mini-breaks and such but for some reason, I could never commit to leaving Ireland to work despite my original plan. However, during the pandemic, I had a lot of time to consider things and think about what I wanted to do as my 30’s came nearer and like many things in my life, music was the catalyst that put Korea in my mind again and from there I have not looked back.
Why did you choose to teach in South Korea?
South Korea has always been on my travel list, like most of Asia. Coming from a culinary background, and growing up in a house where my dad was a chef, Asian food has always been my favourite, so I always wanted to try authentic Asian food. Also, I have a family friend who has been teaching English here for over 6 years and always spoke very highly of it. However, as I mentioned, music is at the heart of many things I do and listening to Korean and Asian music on YouTube during the pandemic led me to a video from a girl teaching English in South Korea and it was my little ‘ah-ha’ moment for sure. Everything fell into place pretty quickly after that.
How are you finding your experience?
So far, I am loving it here. My job is really fun and the kids are incredibly funny. I teach in an evening Hagwon, 2 pm to 10 pm, Monday to Friday. My school is a franchise so we follow the set curriculum in the books there is less lesson planning needed but I still plan out how my lesson goes and always have a few filler ideas ready in case we finish a little early. Getting to Korea during a global pandemic was a bit of a challenge which is thankfully over now but other than that, no complaints. I currently live in Haeundae, Busan. Busan is the second city in Korea, like Cork, and it is located right on the Southeast coast so we get a lot of sunshine and warmer weather most days. It takes me less than three minutes to walk to school also which is amazing. Also, it’s no joke how amazing the food is here! Korean BBQ is an experience but the street food here is so good too.
Did you experience culture shock moving abroad? Or face any challenges? How did you overcome these?
I made sure I did my research before I came on the customs in Korea and the do’s and don’ts so I think I was a little more prepared for a lot of things. Learning Korean for almost 10 months before I came here helped me hugely, it allowed me to get by with the basics. The few culture shocks I experienced was how safe and polite South Korea is. If you miss the post or delivery, your packages are left outside your apartment and nobody pays them any notice. I have seen a large TV delivered outside someone’s door and remain there for two days untouched. Also, the transport here is so clean and efficient. Maybe the only thing that still shocks me after 3 months is the cost of fruit here, it is quite expensive.
Any advice for someone wanting to teach abroad in South Korea?
If I could advise someone coming to South Korea I would say a few things. First, learn some basic Korean. Simple words like bathroom, shop, bag, station and maybe some food items. The second piece of advice I would say is to be okay in your own company. I am a bit of a home bird and I would have spent a lot of time on my own at home, which was good because, in my school, I am the only English teacher currently, so I spend a lot of my weekdays by myself preparing classes. However, if you are looking to meet people, there is always some event happening somewhere for ex-pats and meeting people here is relatively easy. Lastly, and I know it might sound redundant, make sure you like children and want to work with them. This is still a job at the end of the day, and you need to be prepared to work here and work with children 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, many of whom will have very little English so you need to be patient and put the effort in.
How did you find the TEFL course you completed? Do you feel it prepared you for your teaching experience?
I think for me, my 180-hour level 5 course gave me an excellent starting point for teaching. The course was really easy to follow and the modules were well explained with good examples for references. I am glad I did the advanced grammar course before I started teaching in South Korea, particularly as here, words like (A), (An) and (The) don’t naturally exist in their language and their sentence structure is different too, so having the extra course made me more comfortable in front of my students.
What is your favourite age group to teach and why?
Currently, I teach ages 10 to 15 in Elementary grades 4,5 and 6 and Middle school 1 and 2. My favourite group overall to teach are probably my 6th-grade classes. Kids in Korea tend to be quite shy and reserved in middle school and the younger kids might struggle to understand depending on their levels. However, 6th graders are at a point where they are confident enough to talk without becoming shy and their age means they have a lot of opinions on things without reservation. I have had a lot of funny conversations with the kids about all different topics from food, tv shows and even military service.
Tell us one thing you never expected about teaching?
I guess I always knew you could become attached to your students. However, I never expected it to be so strong, to be honest. It’s hard not to feel proud when they correct their mistakes and cannot wait to tell me about it. Or how happy they get when I remember the new Korean word they taught me this week. I have my little ritual with each class when I enter and it is just an overall great experience.
What has been your most rewarding experience?
There are two experiences which stand out to me. I teach one student who has an extremely hard time being still. He has a lot of trouble focusing but he recently had to present a small speech. He knew he could become distracted and asked if he could finish his speech no matter what and he did. Who knows who was more proud, me or himself! I also have a middle school student who very rarely speaks in class. He’s usually very shy and quiet and keeps to himself. The first time I made him laugh in class, even his Korean teacher said she couldn’t believe it! I have also noticed since he is a little more engaged with answers and offering information.
Any plans for the future?
My current plans are to stay in South Korea for at least one or two more years. Although I do think I will move on from where I live currently in Busan. I live in an area called Haeundae which is a beach city. I can’t lie and say I don’t love the fact the beach is always 10 minutes away from me. However, I do think next year I want to try work in an elementary school. Or a daytime Hagwon to try and get more involved in lesson planning and such. I do think I will stay in the Busan general area though. I love the city vibe without the huge population of Seoul.